How to support refugees and asylum seekers in your area

It’s a tough time to be a refugee – especially when you have no recourse to public funds, when you’re not allowed to work and when the prices of basics are soaring

Baskets of carrots, potatoes and other vegetables laid out on tables at a foodbank

For some years now we’ve been supporting a local charity called Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership. A small, volunteer-run charity that’s been quietly getting on with looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our area for many years, in the teeth of the government’s hostile environment, punitive Home Office fees and a growing caseload.

The charity provides practical and emotional support, advice and befriending to refugees and asylum seekers, supporting them on their journey to a safe, secure, and settled life in the UK.

The charity has launched an appeal to raise money for essential food and household items, mostly via supermarket vouchers.

Most of the people WTRRP works with don’t have leave to remain in the country and most have no recourse to public funds (they can’t claim benefits). They’re not entitled to work and are generally living on less than £40 a week. Buying nutritious food and essential items is almost impossible. They rely on the charity’s support to make sure their families have food, personal hygiene products and basic household items.

Last year the charity switched from providing weekly food boxes to supermarket vouchers. The vouchers are a more practical way to help – they give people more choice when shopping and they can choose more fresh food. There’s also less waste.

The huge increases in the cost of food and essentials have meant that many of the charity’s clients are unable to afford enough. The charity’s befrienders report that many families are struggling to maintain even a basic diet.

The situation has got much worse as electricity and gas prices have risen

The number of families that really need vouchers has increased rapidly. WTRRP supports 131 adults and 144 children with vouchers (close to double the number three years ago). This costs about £5,000 a month.

Peter Howard, WTRRP’s Volunteer Grants Team Manager says:

Every week we see more and more people attend our drop in services who desperately need support. The food vouchers are a small way we make a difference and ensure families can get the basics. But we are small organisation run almost entirely by volunteers. So fundraising is tough – particularly at the moment. We urgently need funds to keep up with the rapidly increasing need. Without support, we simply won’t be able to continue providing these vouchers that we know people really rely on.

The charity aims to raise £1,800 and and they’re about half way there. There’s a fundraising page online now. We’d be thrilled if you’d make a donation, of any size, to help the hardest hit to get by.

Minister for Flannel

Ministers are regularly required to show up and look credible before the various committees of the UK Parliament

Do us a favour, watch this short clip from Oliver Dowden’s appearance before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday and see if you can figure out what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s ‘propriety and ethics’ team (22 people, we learn) actually does.

We’ve watched it half a dozen times (for we really do need to get out more) and can honestly say that we still have no idea. Grade-A flannel, almost perfect obfuscation (and much disingenuous use of the “I wouldn’t want to prejudice the ongoing inquiry…” defence).

Oliver Dowden – peak Parliamentary flannel

Dowden so effectively frustrates the efforts of the committee chair William Wragg and senior member John McDonnell to find out what that 22-person team would actually do in the event of a ‘flag’ being raised about a Minister’s conduct (like, for instance, if the HMRC alerted the previous Prime Minister to an incoming Minister’s off-shore tax arrangements) that they’re driven back to questions about ‘departmental efficiency’ in no time.

We’ve pointed out many times in the past what a good soldier Dowden is. He can be sent into a situation like this, fraught with political peril, and emerge unscathed, brushing down his suit and moving briskly on to the next messy situation.

We continue to think that a loyal consigliere like Dowden is not cut out for a role at the very top of politics but he could easily continue to circle around the leadership – cleaning up after ministerial indiscretions and digging metaphorical graves – indefinitely (or until the revolving door beckons). A survivor.

The rest of Dowden’s testimony to the committee concerned cost cutting in the civil service (yes to that, apparently), the declining happiness of civil servants (yes to that too). They’re miserable, mainly because their salaries have actually gone down in the last 11 years – strikes are planned. Karin Smyth grills the Minister and his Permanent Secretary on civil contingencies (disasters, terrorism etc.). It is claimed that there’s a new approach to risk so the next time the balloon goes up there’ll be less administrative panic.

The Coronation Claims Office comes up – someone has to be responsible for the comicbook anachronism of Crown ceremonial – and it is Oliver Dowden. He has some more flannel about the obligation of the state to fund the upcoming coronation, apparently forgetting that for almost the whole history of the British Monarchy coronations were not state affairs and required no government money.

The department’s annual report and accounts was scrutinised – and in particular a big increase in costs. Chisholm pins most of the extra cost on big events – Cop26 in Glasgow, a G7, the Grenfell Inquiry etc.

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

We learn that Dowden, on taking up his new role, led an ‘open session’ with civil servants at which he invited them to share their concerns about pay and conditions (just trying to imagine what it was like to attend that open session is making us twitch).

John McDonnell raises some pretty grim data about poverty amongst the lowest-paid civil servants (8% have used a foodbank). Dowden insists that there will be no improvement to this year’s 2% pay increase.

There’s an entertaining vignette illustrating the way the current government’s effort to push back against ‘woke culture’ in the civil service is failing. Ronnie Cowan (SNP) quotes one of Dowden’s predecessors in his role (Jacob Rees-Mogg no less) insisting that all training involving the words ‘diversity, wellness and inclusion’ be cancelled. Permanent Secretary Alex Chisholm responds: “the diversity and inclusion strategy is a core part of what the government does and has indeed been renewed twice by subsequent ministers.” The blob pushes back.

  • Useful Cabinet Office explainer from the Institute for Government.
  • The digital team inside Parliament is famously good. Their online coverage of Parliamentary debates, committees etc. is really exemplary. An important window on the operation of government and legislature.
  • The House of Commons Library has just published a fascinating research briefing about coronation history and ceremonial.